It took a couple of tries, but Southern University on Thursday became the second higher education institution to raise fees in the past week.
The Southern University Board of Supervisors on Thursday approved increasing fees by 5 percent for students on the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport campuses and at the university’s law school. LSU’s governing board last week also approved a similar 5 percent fee hike.
But the boards of the much larger University of Louisiana system and Louisiana Community and Technical College System chose not to increase fees.
Southern will increase fees by $217 for undergraduate students and $250 for graduate students at the flagship Baton Rouge campus; $169 for undergraduate students and $209 for graduate students at Southern University New Orleans; $100 more for the Southern University at Shreveport campus; and $393 at the Southern University Law Center. The fees are expected to generate about $4.2 million.
The heads of all Louisiana’s higher education systems praised Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature for not cutting their budgets for the second year in row. But LSU and Southern have found that the appropriations approved — in the same amounts as last year — simply aren’t enough to keep up with inflation.
“While we recently celebrated the Legislature’s passage of a standstill budget — not to be confused with full funding — for higher education, this budget does not take into account mandated costs,” Southern President-Chancellor Ray Belton said Thursday. “Without an increase, which is our last resort, the system’s ability to advance its scope and mission would be severely compromised. … This state has not invested in higher education.”
LSU President F. King Alexander told his board June 29 that college campuses are still digging out from the problems caused by eight years of budget cuts that reduced the amount of state appropriations to higher education by 53 percent since 2008. Lawmakers have been able to avoid cuts to higher education for the past two years, but those appropriations have remained flat. With no additional funding, university administrators had to divert available money to cover increases in costs, such as insurance and pensions, that must be paid, often at the expense of academics and other operations.
Louisiana State University is again raising student fees at its main campus by 5 percent.
Students have had to pay more to cover the shortfalls in state appropriations. Fees are not covered by the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which pays most tuition costs for about 50,000 students who have achieved modest academic standards. The fee increases will be attached to fall semester bills that go out next month.
Colleges and universities cannot raise tuition without legislative approval. But the higher education institutions have the legal ability to set and modify their own fees, within certain parameters, until mid-2020.
Members of both the Southern and LSU boards questioned the impact of charging higher fees on students from lower-income families who can’t easily afford the additional money.
That was precisely the consideration that led the Louisiana Community and Technical College System board to choose not to increase fees, said system President Monty Sullivan.
“We believe we have some portion of Louisiana population that is being priced out of the market,” Sullivan said Thursday. “We have a mission to provide greater accessibility to our institutions that train and educate tomorrow’s workforce.”
Similarly, the board that oversees the University of Louisiana system has decided not raise fees.
“We’re going to hold steady,” said Cami Geisman, the system's vice president.
The community college and University of Louisiana systems educate about 220,000 students. The LSU and Southern systems have about 65,000 students enrolled.
The LSU board on June 29 approved the $282 per-semester fee hike for full-time students that is expected to raise more than $14 million.
The Southern board first voted 8-4 Thursday to increase fees by 4.95 percent. But that was one vote shy of what was needed. The board took a brief recess, then came back and approved the fees in a second vote.
Even with a 5 percent increase, Southern University Law Center students will pay $8,245 as compared with Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, which serves the same type of students and charges $10,209, Belton said.
Board member Tony Clayton, of Port Allen, recommended that the Southern administrators take a cut in their six-figure salaries before asking the students to foot the bill. “You have to find a way to make some money here and stop running on the backs of students,” Clayton said. He changed his vote allowing the fee increase to pass.
“We have nothing else to cut. Ten years of budget reductions leave us bare,” Belton said. “For the last few years, we’ve literally been in a survival mode.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.